How many Japanese players will appear in the MLB playoffs?

newsonjapan.com -- Oct 12
Back in 1964, Masanori Murakami would make history, as the first player to swap the Nippon Professional League in Japan for Major League Baseball in the States.

He paved the way for the arrival of many Japanese players to appear in the MLB since, and there have been some incredible players we’ve been fortunate enough to watch on our screens and in the stands because of it.

Still to this day, many players swap their allegiances between the two, going back and forth from playing their trade in Japan and America. One of the biggest Japanese talents currently is Shohei Ohtani of the Los Angeles Angels, who had a rough start to his time in the US, with injury upon injury setting him back, before COVID-19 would come along to further disrupt his career in the MLB.

But this season, the first full campaign since COVID-19 hit, he’s had an incredible record. He managed to become the first player in MLB history to hit 30 homers and earn 10 steals with the first 81 games of the season. And he also became the first player to also be selected in two different roles as part of the MLB All-Star team, where he was selected as both a position player and a hitter.

With stats like that, many people will likely have believed that the Angels would have been one of the favorites in terms of MLB odds to make it to the postseason games this year. But alas, they’ll happen without Ohtani present, despite his incredible season. But Baseball is more than a one-man game, it takes a whole team, and no matter how well an individual performs, if the rest of the team aren’t up to scratch, they won’t progress.

So just how many Japanese players have made the playoffs this year? And could any of them potentially go all the way to winning a World Series like Daisuke Matsuzaka who won one with the Red Sox in 2007? Let’s take a look...

A lone ranger

Well, there aren’t many Japanese players in the playoffs this year. In fact, there is only one. And that lone ranger who is representing Japan in the MLB is the Boston Red Sox’s pitcher, Hirokazu Sawamura.

And he didn’t nearly make it either, as it came down to a Wild Card Elimination Game between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox for the final place in the playoffs. Going into the game, the Yankees were the major favorites to win, afterall, at the start of the season they were 2nd favorites in the entire MLB to win the World Series, only behind defending champions, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But an impressive performance by Sawamura and his team, saw the Red Sox overcome the Yankees, as they limited them to just two runs in the entire nine innings of that game. Eventually the game finished 2-6 in the favor of the Red Sox, and so they managed to clinch the final place in the playoffs which have already begun.

Can Sawamura go all the way?

It’s not impossible, but given the Red Sox form this season, there are plenty of better teams left in the playoffs. But the postseason is a completely different ball game almost. Regular season form goes out the window, and it’s almost like teams get a second wind. And having qualified by beating their arch-rivals, the Red Sox will be well within their rights to think they can challenge for the World Series this year.

As it stands, the Red Sox and Sawamura are currently two games into their playoff series. They lost the first game to the Tampa Bay Rays, failing to register a single run in any of the nine innings. However, Sawamura didn’t even make the lineup in that game, although he is only a relief pitcher. Had he, it may have been a different story.

The Red Sox did come back in game two of the division series playoffs though, absolutely turning the tide on the Rays, as they won with an outstanding performance that led to a 6-14 scoreline, tying the series level at 1-1. And now, they have the next two games at their sacred home, Fenway Park. So confidence will be sky high going into this that they can progress.

Whether Sawamura even gets to play in the playoffs without an appearance so far, remains to be seen. But he’ll still be training and part of the setup between games, and should they go all the way and clinch the World Series, he’ll still be listed as a champion. It’s just a question of for how long the Red Sox can keep their good form going, and if they can catch their opposition off guard.